HOLLAND’S PRETTIEST VILLAGES – my top 5

The Netherlands is nearly the most densely populated country on the planet, but its cities are small. Visitors are surprised to find that Amsterdam has less than 800,000 residents. The Dutch population (16.5million) is dotted across the country in hundreds of small towns and villages. Most have green space all around them, water close by, and relatively prosperous residents who can restore old houses, employ good architects and develop attractive gardens. Consequently rural Holland is one of the prettiest places on earth.

So here are my top five, in no particular order:

Spaarndam

This tiny village is set on the Spaarne River, in the farmland and forest between Amsterdam and Haarlem. Cafe Spaarndam dates from 1571. The village is also notable for the two late 19th century forts, and a statue of the mythical boy with his finger in a mythical dyke.

Muiden

Muiden is made special by having a busy lock, a mooring for tall sailing ships, and Muiderslot, a restored castle on the waterfront. At Muiden a cyclist can sit by the lock with a beer or a coffee and admire the work others have done on their expensive hobby boats.

Broek in Waterland

In the middle of the most appealling (and most popular) riding area out of Amsterdam, Broek in Waterland has little wooden houses in lush gardens, and a church tower peeping up above the lake. A close call between this village and neighbour Zuiderwoude for inclusion in the list, but Broek has better cafes.

Weesp

Weesp was razed to the ground in the 16th century by troops from Gelderland. You didn’t know Gelderland had a marauding army? Neither did I, till the information board in Weesp told me. Now Gelderland is a pleasant Dutch province surrounding the town of Arnhem. Weesp recovered from the setback, and now has a couple of church towers, a row of old windmills, a fort, and of course, cafes by the water.

Edam

Thanks to a certain well-known cheese, Edam is the most visited village on my list. It booms in summer when buses churn out tourists to see Cheese Market: The Show on Wednesdays at lunch time. But any other time it’s quiet and well-supplied with preserved buildings.

NOTE: My rule for this short list – a village had to be in Holland. ‘Holland’ is commonly used to mean ‘The Netherlands’ but officially ‘Holland’ refers to two provinces containing Amsterdam (‘Noord Holland’) and The Hague (‘Zuid Holland’). I limited myself even more than that – my favourite villages had to be reachable within a hour’s bike riding from central Amsterdam, so all are in Noord (North) Holland.

There are plenty of other candidates I could have included (Marken, Durgerdam, Baambrugge, Naarden, Abcoude…). I’d like to hear your suggestions. I’m always looking for an excuse to get on the bike for an hour.

37 Comments

Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland

37 responses to “HOLLAND’S PRETTIEST VILLAGES – my top 5

  1. Love the pics, Richard. I want to go to all of them.

  2. John, you just gave me an idea. I just checked on a bike route planner website:

    Amsterdam-Spaarndam-Edam-Broek-Muiden-Weesp-Amsterdam is 126.7km. A good day’s ride (though there’s a train from Weesp to Amsterdam which would save you 19.7km if you need time for a beer).

  3. Last year we stayed in Weesp for a week and rode hired bikes around to Amsterdam, Muiden, Naarden and local places.

    Given the train only takes 15 minutes to get to central Amsterdam – Weesp was a great base – I think I could live there.

    • Hi Tim, yes I really like Weesp too. We’re pretty attached to Amsterdam and all that goes on there, but I cycle to Weesp (via Abcoude) on average once a fortnight, and sometimes take our visitors out there for a bike ride too. Thanks for the comment.

  4. ilona

    Nice villages. I love the castle of Muiden too.
    I think you should check out Giethoorn and (much closer to home) Schellingwoude too. I’m curious to what you think of it.

  5. ok, Hi, all I am going to spend 2 nights in NOORD HOLLAND on the 23 and 24 of July on my way with my husband and 3 children aged 8 and 6 (twins) to Norway. We are driving and our ferry docks at the Hook early evening of the 23rd. I am looking for somewhere relatively cheap for the five of us to stay. I don’t mind basic even a tent would do but I don’t want smokey smells or dirty rooms. Amsterdam is way off my price range and I am intrigued by all these lovely sounding places. Any ideas?

    • Hi Karen, I know Amsterdam is notoriously expensive for hotels, so my suggestion for your family would be to try to stay in Haarlem – a lovely small town, 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam. It’s big enough to have a range of accommodation options and a lot to offer in sightseeing too.

      I’d also suggest looking at http://www.airbnb.com, a website where ordinary residents rent out their spare bedroom, or whole apartments (which it sounds like you would need). It’s not really cheap, but quite a bit cheaper than hotels, and we find it works well.

      Hope this helps a bit and that you have great couple of days in our lovely country.

  6. Lori Hamilton

    My husband and I just returned from a trip to Amsterdam. We met our son there (we hadn’t seen him in 10 months – he’s been in Afghanistan) and stayed at a wonderful, but expensive, hotel. This was our first trip to Europe and I’m so glad we decided Amsterdam was the place. On Thursday we took the bus to Edam and Vollendam, and although we got a late start, saw quite a bit and had a marvelous time. The villages were beautiful, but the countryside even more so. It seems living anywhere near Amsterdam is costly and I was wondering if there were small villages further out where real estate was any less expensive but just as pretty. Even if I can never live there, I plan to return and would like to stay in the country. (And I CAN dream!)

    Thanks,
    Lori Hamilton

    • Lori, I’m glad you enjoyed the lovely Dutch landscape. We too always realise we’re in a relatively prosperous country when we see how well preserved most farmhouses and small villages are.

      I’m not a real estate expert, but I imagine the most affordable areas of the Netherlands are in modern housing complexes on the fringes of the larger cities. They’re often not the most beautiful places, but you do get better value for money and a little more space there.

      Since the Netherlands are small and densely populated, Dutch villages are always within commuting distance from major centres, so attractive village houses are appealing to people with plenty of money.

  7. koppieop

    Hi Richard, I enjoyed your ride. I pity travelers who include Holland in European tours that practically always are limited to Amsterdam, maybe The Hague too. So I’m glad to suggest any tourist to stay a few days more and visit villages like your Top 5. Having lived a couple of years in Holland, I was lucky enough to know other jewels as well.

    En passant, a brief comment on Cologne: As a non-Christian, I liked its Cathedral very much. Right from the very moment I entered the Dom, I had the strange feeling of a religious spirit in every corner; a sensation that was absent during my visit to St Peter’s in Rome, two days earlier.

    It was a pleasure to stop surfing the web looking for my subject, and read your blog when it crossed my path.

    Take care,

    Federico
    From Bella Vista (BA), Argentina

    • Hi Federico, I’m so pleased when people follow my routes and have a good time. It even took me quite a while in Holland to discover that there was more to the country than Amsterdam.

      And indeed, I did find Cologne Cathedral really interesting and impressive (and very well guided). I couldn’t say it was a religious experience for me – in fact, when I hear about the ‘sacred’ relics my main thought is how credulous some people seem to be. However, the architecture is beautiful and there’s no doubt it has a powerful effect on believers and non-believers alike.

  8. Weesp? Noooooo

    Monnickendam, Edam, Volendam?

    • Well, Edam’s in there. Volendam…too many bus tourists for my taste. Monnickendam – good choice.

      But I do like Weesp too, perhaps because it’s the right distance from Amsterdam to be a convenient bike rider’s koffie stop by the water.

  9. Hielke

    You could pay a visit to Spakenburg as well, especially on Saturdays it’s nice because of the market.

  10. Pretty, historic and beautiful … great photo’s and info.

  11. Very informative, thank you for sharing…

  12. Koen

    Alkmaar! Easy access by train from Amsterdam, bring a bike an cycle to Bergen an Egmond throught the dunes… Truly amazing!

  13. Shirley

    Hi Richard I am planing a cycle trip in Italy . Any suggestions for self guided cycle paths off the tourist trap. Hoping to hear from you. I will be in amsterdam next week and will take your suggestions .

    • Hi Shirley,

      I’m not expert on cycling in Italy, I’m afraid, having only done a little along the Po River out of Turin (Torino). That was very nice though. Enjoy your riding in and around Amsterdam – there’s no shortage of safe and interesting routes there. Just see which way the wind is blowing, ride in that direction and take the train back when you’ve had enough. It doesn’t matter too much where you go – it’s all lovely if the weather’s good.

  14. Laura Mars

    Hello, Richard–
    We appreciated reading your blog. We’re traveling to Europe next summer (3 families consisting of 5 adults and 4 kids–twin 12 year olds, an 11 year old and a 15 year old) in June 2014. We’re driving in from Luxembourg City. We’ll have two days in Holland before heading off to Frankfurt and flying home. The only must we have is to go through Delft to purchase some tiles for our fireplace. The thought of spending a full day biking through some towns sounds very cool. Thoughts on an itinerary where Delft would fit in along with a nice, non-strenuous ride (due to our large group)? Also, where would you recommend staying for our two nights? Thanks for any advice you can offer.
    Laura

    • Hi Laura,

      Delft itself is small and touristy. Of course there are hotels there but you may find a better range (and price) in Den Haag (The Hague) just a few kilometres away. It’s also an interesting town in itself. We particularly love the Gemeentemuseum which has Vermeer’s famous painting View of Delft at the moment.

      You can rent a bike at Den Haag Centraal Station and easily ride to Delft. the bike shop can probably suggest a loop ride for you, but after Delft you could ride to Leiden, and/or out to the sea at Scheveningen. They’re both interesting and attractive places too.

      Happy riding!

  15. I usually stay in Weesp, when over from Sydney Australia. Pretty as a postcard and cycle around to Naarden, Abcoude, Bussum or a quick beer in Muiden. Much cheaper hotel fares than Amsterdam and excellent train connection to AMsterdam Central and airport. Maybe I am biased as a born Weesper?

    • Yes, Henk, I know that lovely Abcoude-Weesp-Naarden-Muiden loop well. It’s a bit longer when you have to start from Amsterdam, so staying in Weesp would be excellent. Some years ago we were offered a home exchange between Sydney and Weesp. We said no because Weesp seemed too far out in the sticks, but as you say it’s only a 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam. It takes us longer to get to the supermarket in Sydney.

  16. Silvia

    Hi Richard, I’m in Amsterdam and I was trying to find nice places to visit from here?
    Do you recommend any of those places to go now? Winter?
    And how can I book accommodation? And get there?

    Thanks, Silvia

    • Hi Silvia,

      Apologies for the delated response while I’ve been on holidays. Hope you’re enjoying Amsterdam. Easy trips outside Amsterdam are to Haarlem (20 minutes by train), Utrecht (30 mins) or a short bus ride to Edam, Monnickendam and Broek in Waterland. Buses leave from behind Centraal Station.

      I often use http://www.booking.com to book accommodation, but you can also just turn up in a town like Haarlem or Utrecht and find the local Tourist Information Office (known as the VVV in Holland) and usually at or near the railway station. They’ll help you find accommodation and at this time of year there should be plenty of options.

      Happy travels – I’m jealous!

  17. Caroline

    Your article was wonderful as are all the comments. We will be bike touring from Vienna to Nantes in May 30th- July 14th. We will take the train with our bikes to Amsterdam on July 15th. We will leave the Netherlands on August 5th. I have Bicycle Touring Holland as a guide but enjoyed your take on the area near Amsterdam. If you had the kind of time we have what would you do that would be least touristy and most scenic “true Holland” . Thank you in advance ! Caroline ( we lived in Groningen 1988-89 but haven’t been back )

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Caroline!

      For a ride into ‘true Holland’, I’d suggest Waterland, just across the Ij from Amsterdam Centraal Station. There’s a free ferry that takes bikes. A loop to Broek in Waterland, Monnickendam and Durgerdam is about 40km, and you can make it longer by including the more toursity (but pretty all the same) Edam, Volendam or Marken, or shorter by leaving out Monnickendam.

      Otherwise, a ride to Haarlem is about an hour each way, a bit longer if you go through Spaarndam. You can take a train back to Amsterdam (with you bike) from Haarlem if you’ve had enough.

      Happy riding!

      • Caroline

        Thank you !! I found a lovely place to stay in Monnickendam and one in Bergen . I need to sit down with a map and plan out the rides. We will try and make intersecting loops and return to Amsterdam in time to go home . I am so glad I found your article. I shall post back when our trip is complete and let you know :) Thank you c

      • koppieop

        Caroline, please do follow Richard’s suggestion, I fully agree! I have lived in Amsterdam a couple of years, have always enjoyed my trips in that region, with or without guests. Seems impossible to me that somebody could be disappointed by anything he sees and experiments there. 

        Greetings,

        Federico Bär Argentina

        El día domingo, 9 de febrero de 2014 18:50, Richard Tulloch’s LIFE ON THE ROAD escribió: WordPress.com >Caroline commented: “Thank you !! I found a lovely place to stay in Monnickendam and one in Bergen . I need to sit down with a map and plan out the rides. We will try and make intersecting loops and return to Amsterdam in time to go home . I am so glad I found your article. ” >

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  20. I remember i ended up in Spaarndam many years ago as an impromptu road trip from Amsterdam, beautiful little village.

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